Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Ayutthaya: The Ancient Capital of Siam & Bang Pa-In

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya was once considered the most spectacular city in the world, with over 400 temples and three palaces located on an island threaded by canals, it attracted traders and diplomats from Europe to Asia and beyond. Founded in 1350, Ayutthaya was the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom and flourished from the 14th to 18th centuries, during which time it grew to be a centre of global diplomacy and commerce and an important connecting point between the East and West. In fact, the Royal Court of Ayutthaya exchanged ambassadors far and wide, including with the French Court at Versailles and the Mughal Court in Delhi, as well as with imperial courts of Japan and China. By 1700 Ayutthaya had become the largest and wealthiest city in the world with over a million inhabitants and merchants from Europe proclaiming Ayutthaya as being the finest city they had ever seen with gold-laden palaces and a visiting flotilla of trading vessels from all over the world. All this came to an abrupt end when the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya in 1767 and almost completely burnt the city to the ground. 

Today, only a few ruins remain that provide a glimpse of the spectacular city that must have been. Most of the remains are prangs, temples and palaces, as those were the only buildings made of stone at that time that lasted, and offer a fascinating architectural mix of Khmer and early Sukhothai styles: stone cactus-shaped obelisks called prangs, denote a Khmer influence similar to the famous towers of Angkor Wat, while the more pointed stupas denote the Sukhothai influence. The great cultural value of Ayutthaya's ruins, many of which have been painstakingly restored, were officially recognized in 1991 when the historic city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mahout with their elephants cater to tourists who in can travel in splendour through 
Ayutthaya Historical Park

A Prang on the corner of Ayutthaya Historical Park is of the Ayutthaya or Khmer-style 
and has the look of a vertical corn cob

The legend of Ayutthaya tells of Prince U Thong discovering an exquisite conch shell buried in the earth. In a moment of revelation he chose that very ground as the site for his future capital and gave it the name Ayutthaya, after Ayodhya in Northern India, the city of hero Rama of the Hindu epic Ramayana.

The three bell-shaped chedis of Wat Phra Si Sanphet have become a symbol of Ayutthaya, 
and stand almost in the centre of where the old capital once stood

The East Chedi contains the relics of King Borommatrailokanat, who reigned 1448-1488

The Central Chedi contains the relics of King Borommaracha Thirat III, 
who reigned from 1488 to 1491

The West Chedi contains the relics of King Rama Thibodi II, 
who reigned from 1491 to 1529

Chedi ruins along the perimeter of the temple complex

The ruins of one of the perimeter chedi among shrubs and trees dotted with gravestones and memorials

Remnants of Buddha images

The exterior wall of the temple complex, beyond which the Royal Palace once stood

A short distance from the ruined walls of Ayuttaya is Wat Yai Chai Mongkol, a Buddhist temple built in 1357 during the reign of King U Thong, the first ruler of Ayutthaya, and houses an impressively large reclining Buddha that lies in the temple grounds. The monastery which sits on the grounds was dedicated to the monks who had gone to study Buddhism in Ceylon. As the group gained in popularity, the King appointed the head of the sect to become 'Somdet Phra Wannarat' or the right supreme Patriarch. A temple was then built in 1592 to celebrate King Naresuan's single-handed defeat of a Burmese crown prince in a grand duel fought on elephants — fact is often stranger than fiction!

Wat Yai Chai Mongkol Buddhist Temple was built in 1357 during the reign of King U Thong, 
the first ruler of Ayutthaya

The Viharn Phra Phuttha Saiyat or the Vihara of the Reclining Buddha was constructed 
during the reign of King Naresuan, but the new image was remodeled in 1965 after the 
original was ruined by fortune hunters

Buddhists light incense as a symbolic offering for Phra Phuttha Chaya Mongkhon,
 one of the most sacred Buddha images in Ayutthaya

Old man sweeping the temple courtyard

Rows of Buddha images circle the Main Chedi 

Ayutthaya-style Buddha detail 

The Main Chedi of Wat Yai Chai Mongkol 

Saffron robed Buddhist monks at the chedi

Ancient gate to the temple compound

On a hot day that reached upwards of 40 degrees, a cold beer was a welcome sight

View from the restaurant over the Chao Phraya River

Thai spring rolls with cabbage salad

Hot chili sauce

Fish Soup

Fresh pineapple, watermelon and cantaloupe

We were picked up at the restaurant by long tail boat and wound our way along the Chao Phraya River 

Temples and private homes line the shore 

 Modern waterside homes reflect the affluence of Ayutthaya

Wat Chai Wattanaram symbolizes Mount Meru, the centre of the universe

Set on the Chao Phraya river, the Wat Chai Wattanaram royal temple boasts one of the most elaborate interpretations of the Mount Meru concept in ancient Khmer architecture, which influenced heavily the architectural style of the late Ayutthaya Period, which lasted from 1629 to 1767. The principal prang, modelled after the ancient Khmer prangs, symbolizes the centre of the universe, while the surrounding chedis depict the four continents and the outer universe. 

The principal prang of Wat Chai Wattanarum

The principal prang, modelled after the ancient Khmer prangs, symbolizes the centre of the universe, while the surrounding chedis depict the four continents and the outer universe

A gold and white chedi on the shore where we disembarked for Bang Pa-In Palace

After visiting Ayutthaya and lunching at a riverside restaurant, we travelled to Bang Pa-In Summer Palace, that was originally built in the 17th-century by King Prasad Thong. Set on a lovely landscaped lake garden that was once an island itself, Bang Pa-In was abandoned after Ayutthaya fell, but was rebuilt by King Rama V who commissioned additional buildings to be built in an eclectic style that blends European neoclassical and Victorian architecture with Early Ayutthaya and Chinese palace styles.

Bougainvillea on the lake of the Summer Place

Ho Hemmonthian Thewarat stone pagoda under a banyan tree, built in 1879 to replace an old shrine built by villagers as an offering to King Prasatthong of the Ayutthaya period

The Aisawan Dhiphya-Asana floating pavilion and Bang Pa-In Royal Palace

A group of Thai school children on a day excursion to the Royal Palace

The Aisawan Dhiphya-Asana floating pavilion set within an ornamental pond 
in front of the Bang Pa-In Royal Palace

Small wooden house used by the King to greet locals, so that he appeared as a "common" man

Elephant topiary garden at the Bang Pa-In Royal Palace

The Chinese-style Phra Thinang Wehart Chamrun Palace and throne room, 
was built by wealthy Chinese merchants in 1899 as a royal offering to King Rama V

Elaborate painted wood carved gate detail

Porcelain dragon inside the Chinese-style palace with its gold and red lacquer interior 

Phra Thinang Wehart Chamrun and Ho Withun Thasana, or Sages Look-Out, a tower used by royal parties as an observatory to view the heavens or surrounding countryside

Thai army guards patrol the Royal Palace grounds

Marching through the Palace grounds

Phra Thinang Warophat Phiman, a Neo-Classic style one-storey mansion built by 
King Chula-Longkorn in 1876 as his residence and throne hall